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No masks, more alcohol may lead to surge in airline travel

American Airlines took a big hit in the first quarter of 2022 but is expecting a sky-high amount of travelers in the upcoming months.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — American Airlines, after announcing it took a $1.6 billion loss in the first quarter of 2022, said it's expecting a big boost in travelers over the next few months.

While sales were down 16% compared with the same quarter of 2019 for the travel giant, the hustle and bustle at Charlotte Douglas International Airport paint a different picture. 

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This projection came just days after airlines and the TSA dropped all masking requirements. Airline officials believe that any increase in customers that are happy about not needing a mask will be offset by people who choose not to fly because other passengers won't be masked. 

Most states and cities dropped their masking requirements in February and early March following new guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that put less focus on case counts and more on hospital capacity and said most Americans could safely take off their masks.

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The Justice Department, meanwhile, said it is appealing a judge’s order that voided the federal mask mandate on planes and trains and in travel hubs. The CDC asked the Justice Department to appeal the decision handed down by a federal judge in Florida earlier this week.

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In addition to lifting the mask mandate, American, United and Delta all indicated Thursday that they will lift the bans they imposed now that masks are optional on flights. 

American Airlines Chief Government Affairs Officer Nate Gatten told reporters that “in most cases,” people who were banned over masks will be allowed back, but that won't extend to the worst offenders.

“In cases where an incident may have started with face mask non-compliance and escalated into anything involving something more serious — certainly an assault on one of our team members or customers — those passengers ... will never be allowed to travel with us again,” Gatten said to The Associated Press.

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Delta has banned about 2,000 passengers; Alaska has banned more than 1,700; and United has banned about 1,000. American and Southwest have never disclosed numbers.

Airlines also resumed the sale of in-flight alcohol, which is sure to increase revenue. 

As more travelers are expected to flood TSA lines, the idea of overbooked flights caused vice president of Charlotte City Partners Adam Rhew to get excited for what this means for the Queen City.

“It’s those leisure travelers that are really driving demand," Rhew said. "We are excited to see that forecast for positive growth.”

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While American Airlines took a hit, the City of Charlotte will have to wait and see if it marked some economic success. For now, it's up in the air. 

While it's no longer a mandate to wear a mask on public transportation and on airplanes, some travelers said they will continue to stay cautious.

Contact Austin Walker at awalker@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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